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"I know one thing that can be done," said Mr. Meeson, with a snarl: "all those fools out there can be sacked, and sacked they shall be; and, what's more, I'll go and sack them myself. That will do, No. 3; that will do;" and No. 3 departed, and glad enough he was to go.
As he went a clerk arrived, and gave a card to the great man.
"Miss Augusta Smithers," he read; then, with a grunt, "Show Miss Augusta Smithers in."
Presently Miss Augusta Smithers arrived. She was a tall, well-formed young lady of about twenty-five, with pretty golden hair, deep gray eyes, a fine forehead, and a delicate mouth; just now, however, she looked very nervous.
'Well, Miss Smithers, what is it?" asked the publisher.
"I came, Mr. Meeson-I came about my book."
"Your book, Miss Smithers?" this was an affectation of forgetfulness; let me see?-forgive me, but we publish so many books. Oh, yes, I remember; 'Jemima's Vow.' Oh, well, I believe it is going on fairly."
"I saw you advertised the sixteenth thousand the other day," put in Miss Smithers, apologetically.
"Did we did we? ah, then, you know more about it than I do," and he looked at his visitor in a way that conveyed clearly enough that he considered the interview was ended.
Miss Smithers rose, and then, with a spasmodic effort, sat down again. "The fact is, Mr. Meeson," she
said "the fact is, that, I thought that, perhaps, as 'Jemima's Vow' had been such a great success, you might, perhaps in short, you might be inclined to give me some small sum in addition to what I have received."
Mr. Meeson looked up. His forehead was wrinkled till the shaggy eyebrows nearly hid the sharp little eyes. "What!" he said, "What!"
At this moment the door opened, and a young gentleman came slowly in. He was a very nice-looking young man, tall and well shaped, with a fair skin and jolly blue eyes-in short, a typical young Englishman of the better sort, ætate suo twenty-four. I have said that he came slowly in, but that scarcely conveys the gay and dégagé air of independence which pervaded this young man, and which would certainly have struck any observer as little short of shocking, when contrasted with the wormlike attitude of those who crept round the feet of Meeson. This young man had not, indeed, even taken the trouble to remove his hat, which was stuck upon the back of his head, his hands were in his pockets, a sacrilegious whistle hovered on his lips, and he opened the door of the sanctum sanctorum of the Meeson establishment with a kick!
"How do, uncle?" he said to the commercial terror, who was sitting there behind his formidable books, addressing him even as though he were an ordinary man. Why, what's up?"
Just then, however, he caught sight of the very handsome young lady who was seated in the office,
and his whole demeanor underwent a most remarkable change; out came the hands from his pockets, off went the hat, and, turning, he bowed, really rather nicely, considering how impromptu the whole perform
"What is it, Eustace?" asked Mr. Meeson, sharply.
"Oh, nothing, uncle, nothing-it can bide," and, without waiting for an invitation, he took a chair, and sat down in such a position that he could see Miss Smithers without being seen by his uncle.
"I was saying, Miss Smithers, or, rather, I was going to say," went on the elder Meeson, "that, in short, I do not in the least understand what you can mean. You will remember that you were paid a sum of fifty pounds for the copyright of 'Jemima's Vow.""
"Great heavens !" murmured Master Eustace, behind; "what a do!"
"At the time an alternative agreement, offering you seven per cent. on the published price of the book, was submitted to you, and, had you accepted it, you would, doubtless, have realized a larger sum," and Mr. Meeson contracted his hairy eyebrows and gazed at the poor girl in a way that was, to say the least, alarming. But Augusta, though she felt sadly inclined to flee, still stood to her guns, for, to tell the truth, her need was very great.
"I could not afford to wait for the seven per cent., Mr. Meeson," she said, humbly.
"Oh, ye gods! seven per cent., when he makes about forty-five!" murmured Eustace, in the background.
Possibly, Miss Smithers; possibly," went on the great man. "You must really forgive me if I am not acquainted with the exact condition of your private affairs. I am, however, aware from experience that the money matters of most writing people are a little embarrassed."
Augusta winced, and Mr. Meeson, rising heavily from his chair, went to a large safe which stood near, and extracted from it a bundle of agreements. These he glanced at one by one till he found what he was looking for.
"Here is the agreement," he said; "let me see—ah, I thought so-copyright fifty pounds, half proceeds of rights of translation, and a clause binding you to offer any future work you may produce during the next five years to our house on the seven per cent. agreement, or a sum not exceeding one hundred pounds for the copyright. Now, Miss Smithers, what have you to say? You signed this paper of your own free will. It so happens that we have made a large profit on your book: indeed, I don't mind telling you that we have got as much as we gave you back from America for the sale of the American rights; but that is no ground for your coming to ask for more money than you agreed to accept. I never heard of such a thing in the whole course of my professional experience; never!" and he paused, and once more eyed her sternly.
"At any rate, there ought to be something to come to me from the rights of translation; I saw in the
paper that the book was to be translated into French and German," said Augusta, faintly.
Oh, yes, no doubt; Eustace, oblige me by touching the bell."
The young gentleman did so, and a tall, melancholylooking clerk appeared.
"No. 18," snarled Mr. Meeson, in the tone of peculiar amiability that he reserved for his employees, "make out the translation account of' Jemima's Vow,' and fill up a check of balance due to the author."
No. 18 vanished like a thin, unhappy ghost, and Mr. Meeson once more addressed the girl before him. "If you want money, Miss Smithers," he said, “you had better write us another book. I am not going to deny that your work is good work—a little too deep, and not quite orthodox enough, perhaps; but still good. I tested it myself, when it came to hand-which is a thing I don't often do--and saw it was good selling quality, and you see I didn't make a mistake. I believe 'Jemima's Vow' will sell twenty thousand without stopping-here's the account."
As he spoke the spectre-like clerk put down a neatly ruled bit of paper and an unsigned check on the desk before his employer, and then smiled a shadowy smile and vanished.
Mr. Meeson glanced through the account, signed the check, and handed it, together with the account, to Augusta, who proceeded to read it. It ran thus: